The days of long road closures down Raleigh’s main drags won’t end anytime soon, but city councilors are talking about how to reduce the impact on residents trying to get around them.
Members of the City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee Tuesday said more and better notification is needed to alleviate complaints from residents who find themselves hampered by roads closed for races, parades and other events.
There are an estimated 48 races per year in Raleigh, the largest number of any North Carolina city. A race occurs nearly every weekend during running season. There is no cap limiting the number of races and no rules about what time of day races take place.
Councilman Thomas Crowder brought up the issue at a council meeting Nov. 16, indicating he personally was frustrated by the lack of communication surrounding road closures for a race.
“I am continuing to have quite a few citizens express concerns about not only the number, but how these races are handled,” he said at the meeting. .
“There’s not enough communication on the street. We need to let people know — not only our residents, but people visiting our city — to know if Hillsborough or a certain street is closed from Y to Z and how to get around that and you need to know that before you get right up on Hillsborough Street and see a barricade.”
Jeff Murison, executive director of the Hillsborough Street Community Service Corporation, said only a few businesses complain about race disruption.
“For the most part, businesses feel like they’re an opportunity to get exposure,” Murison told the committee. “But there is clearly an opportunity to do a better job of communicating better to the community.”
Races and other events affecting downtown are managed by the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. Anyone can request an application. The requested dates are checked against a master downtown event calendar and submitted to the DRA events task force for review. Then the event is reviewed by City Council.
Brandi Barnhart, outdoor public space manager for the DRA, said events are typically approved if there is no date conflict. Applicants are required to work with the city police department to make sure street closures are confirmed.
Barnhart said she issues notifications to residents via email. Events and closures are also listed on the DRA’s website and on the city’s website.
“We try really hard to make sure everybody knows about the closures, but inevitably someone doesn’t hear about it,” she said.
Exceptions to the closed roads are made for emergencies. But for residents trying to get through, it feels like a trap, said John, a resident of the Hue apartment complex who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.
He said he felt “boxed in” by one event last fall.
“I kept running into closed roads,” he said. “Something I’d like to see is a map that shows these roads are going to be closed.”
“Is there an app for that?” asked Councilwoman Mary Ann Baldwin.
Indeed there is, or will be. Assistant City Manager Dan Howe said he would ask the city’s IT department to create a map showing street closures and times for races and parades. The map will be available on the city’s website. It is not clear how long that project will take.
But committee members agreed more needs to be done. Races such as the Krispy Kreme Challenge that don’t route downtown do not require DRA approval before going before the city council.
Committee members also asked that the event application form be changed so that events affecting Hillsborough Street would go through a process similar to the DRA’s before going before council. The Hillsborough Street Community Service Organization will oversee that process.
Committee members also suggested the city’s community services department help notify residents as much as possible. A citywide listserv is one possibility mentioned during the meeting.
Baldwin said she experienced the issue firsthand two years ago during the annual Krispy Kreme Challenge. She had 12 phone calls from residents who were stuck.
“I never get phone calls. People at Seaboard [Station] couldn’t get out, people at Mordecai,” she said.
The following year the race was heavily advertised and she didn’t receive a single call.
“Obviously if the organizer is engaged in doing what they are supposed to do, the complaints go down,” she said.
City staff will also investigate whether reverse 911 calls are a feasible way to notify residents, but police officers at the meeting said it will likely be too expensive.
Staff members will work on the issue and report back to the committee in two weeks.